Nearly 50 local leaders say they want to solve an issue that’s hampered our community’s response to homelessness for years: unity, or in this case lack of it.
Bank of America’s chief operations and technology officer Cathy Bessant and Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods will lead an effort called The 2025 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy, aimed to create a community-wide approach to homelessness.
Why it matters: Charlotte’s problem isn’t a shortage of people who care about homelessness — it’s that it has too many organizations working in silos with no center of gravity other than goodwill.
If you’ve tried to volunteer or work with organizations in this area, you know that there’s lots of places to plug in, but difficult to see how they’re wired to any wider approach.
- Dozens of nonprofits do everything from raise money to providing meals to paying for hotel rooms.
- The county government oversees social services and the city government oversees affordable housing, even though clearly the two are inextricable.
- The United Way plays a big role but so does Roof Above.
If it’s that confusing for volunteers, it’s only more confusing for those without a roof.
The state of play: About 3,200 people are experiencing homelessness in Mecklenburg County, according to the latest snapshot.
In February, the county health department closed the north end encampment known as Tent City, moving 200 people in a span of 72 hours. They all were offered 90-day hotel stays.
- The county then partnered with the nonprofits that had been working at Tent City throughout the pandemic — several literally for 300 straight days — to help manage the hotels and services there.
Deborah Woolard of Block Love CLT was one of those folks. She told me a few weeks ago that things were going well, with expected down days. Some people have left the hotels and are back outside. The Observer reported that three people have died — one because of substance abuse, and two to “underlying medical conditions.”
But others, Woolard said, were making great strides in the transition.
- Earlier this month, the city of Charlotte announced a bold plan to help that group of folks. It will spend $2 million to house 75 families for a year. That’s part of a nearly $6 million in CARES Act money the city will put toward organizations that help with homelessness.
Background: This is hardly the first time the city’s launched a plan. After a 2000 report on the state of housing here, the city and county started on a 10-year plan. In July 2014 Center City Partners and a Homelessness Task Force aimed to end chronic homelessness.
- They all achieved some success, but unexpected circumstances such as a global recession and a pandemic haven’t helped.
What they’re saying: “Homelessness is a human and community tragedy. Our focus will be on developing an approach that addresses the full continuum of need, and on helping to drive meaningful and lasting change” — Cathy Bessant
Of note: Two of the people who’ve signed on to work on the plan are city manager Marcus Jones and county manager Dena Diorio, who had a little public sparring match during the final tense days of Tent City.
- The argument might’ve appeared trivial — it was over whether the county or city would coordinate rides to the shelters for Tent City residents — but it encapsulated the trouble of not having a vision for who does what.
Others who’ve signed on include mayor Vi Lyles, board of commissioners chair George Dunlap, Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith, Foundation For the Carolinas CEO Michael Marsicano, UNC Charlotte Urban Institute Executive Director Lori Thomas, Central Piedmont Community College CEO Kandi Deitemeyer, along with the heads of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, the United Way of Central Carolinas, and others.
The big picture: Charlotte gained a reputation, fair or unfair, as the city that will task force everything to death. But a few over the years have fundamentally altered the course of the city.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, for instance, was summoned into action after the 2014 Harvard and Cal-Berkeley study showed we ranked 50th out of 50 major cities in upward mobility. That group produced a document that laid bare the roots of inequities here that’s been called the Marshall Plan for Charlotte.
Most of the initiatives in the city in the years since then have had some connection to “mobility,” sometimes to the chagrin of those not working directly on it.
My thought bubble: The people whose names are on this project make things happen when they want things to happen. Expect them to make every effort to make this a community-wide initiative, which will probably start with educating and communicating the issues around homelessness here to a city full of newcomers who’ll want to get involved.
What’s next: They’ve already developed a framework for the operation, and say they’ll develop “work streams” that focus on specific areas of the complex issue: from preventing homelessness to developing more temporary shelter to doing a better job communicating.
- The group committed to presenting a comprehensive plan for homelessness by October.